Two calibers so close together and yet worlds apart.
The .250 Savage and .243 Winchester may have a similar history, fall in a similar deer hunting category and have bullet specifications separated by the narrowest of inches, but their ballistics tell a very different story.
The .250 Savage vs .243 Winchester Ballistics
The .250 Savage and .243 Winchester’s histories are well known to most hunters and firearm enthusiasts, but for this article it’s the calibers performances that we are most interested in.
Taking the velocity, energy and trajectory readings from two common ammo brands for each caliber, we will use those results as a means for comparison.
For the .250 Savage the ammo used for testing was the:
- Hornady Interlock Soft Point 100-grain
- Remington Core Lokt 100-grain
For the .243 Winchester the ammo used for testing was the:
- Hornady V-Max Superformance 58-grain
- Hornady SST Superformance 95-grain
In its prime the .250 Savage was regarded as the premium rifle for velocity, literally trailblazing a path for similar calibers to follow. However, as one gun enthusiast declared “It was born too soon.”
Bullet technology was not ready for such speed and hence could not support the .250 Savages fore sight, leaving it without developments and a means to improve.
This is evident from the sheer dominance by the .243 Winchester in the velocity test.
Ok, one could argue the bullet weights are slightly lighter with the .243 but the differences in readings simply cannot be ignored.
Muzzle readings of 2,800 feet per second for the .250 Savage is certainly impressive and a sign of good performance but sadly, it doesn’t last long when the .243 Win sends the 95-grain Hornady SST bullet at a blistering speed of 3,185 feet per second and let us not even mention the pace of the Hornady V-MAX 58-grain Superformance. Ok fine its 3,925 feet per second.
Although the .250 Savage is not as fast out the barrel as its rival, it does still hold a good velocity out to 300-yards, with the Hornady Interlock staying above 2,000 feet per second and the Remington dipping just below that at 1,935 feet per second.
The .243 Winchester does well to maintain its velocity out to distance, with the Hornady SST bullet running at around 2,402 feet per second at 300-yards. A difference in velocity of 783 feet per second from the muzzle to 300-yards is good work for the .243 Win.
Punching power, the defining word with which many calibers are deemed worth enough or not. We all know the importance of a caliber’s energy values, it’s the difference between going home happy with a little more weight on the back of the truck, or trudging home empty handed scratching your head.
Carrying on from its impressive win in the velocity section, the .243 Winchester again trumps the .250 Savage with better energy readings.
Understandably the lighter 58-grain Hornady V-Max holds a smaller energy reading than the 100-grain Hornady SST, but it’s value of 1,984 ft-lbs is still higher than both readings of the Hornady Interlock and Remington Core Lokt for the .250 Savage which are 1,741 ft-lbs and 1,766 ft-lbs respectively.
If we go by the rule of thumb that an energy value of 1,000 ft-lbs is the minimum amount required to kill a medium sized deer such as a whitetail, then the readings on the .250 Savage are still good within 200-yards.
Remember, that’s just a guideline and not a set rule, yes shot placement remains king but if we wanted to put a value to it, then the .250 Savage is still good around 200-yards.
While the .243 Winchester maintains its punching power with the 95-grain Hornady SST, it does lose a bit of strength with the 58-grain Hornady V-MAX coming in at 921 ft-lbs. However, this is to be expected with a lighter bullet.
A versatile rifle needs to be a flat shooter, it needs to be tight and give the hunter confidence to pull the trigger knowing exactly where that bullet will hit.
The .250 Savage holds the standard two inches high at 100-yards and dead on at 200-yards. Yet it falls away when going the distance and drops an average of nine inches on 300-yards.
Whitetail or coyote, those nine inches are significant and can mean a complete miss for the novice hunter.
As its reputation already backs-up the results, the .243 Winchester is a flat shooting rifle. Looking at the Hornady SST Superformance 95-grain ammo, it hit the standard high of 1.7” at 100-yards, touches again high at 1.1” on 200-yards and then only dips below the zero mark by 4.4” on 300-yards.
All while carrying a velocity of 2,402 feet per second, now that is flat.
Some may not consider recoil to be true ballistics, it is still an important factor to consider when making a choice between two calibers.
A brief comparison of the .243 Winchester with other hunting calibers is needed to highlight the recoil of this fine caliber.
It is accepted that the .243 firing a 100-grain bullet will create about nine pounds of recoil from a rifle weighing 7.5-pounds.
Similarly, a .270 Winchester with a 140-grain bullet travelling at 3,000 feet per second will generate 17.1 pounds of recoil from a rifle weighing 8-pounds. That is almost double the recoil effect of the .243 Winchester.
A rifle chambered in .250 Savage weighing the same as the .243 Winchester at 7.5-pounds, firing a 100-grain at 2,900 feet-per-second will produce a recoil of 7.8-pounds. Although not as bigger margin as the .270 and .243 comparison it is still less than the .243 Winchester.
One of the biggest changes to the .250 Savage in its history was the adjustment from a 1 in 14” down to a 1 in 10” twist. The original twist rate is still available; however, it is common knowledge that the 1 in 14” will give excellent accuracy results with lighter bullets and the 1 in 10” twist is better suited to the heavier bullets.
There are not many accuracy tests carried out on the .250 Savage, a reason for this may be the scarcity in factory produced ammunition and many hunters that have a .250 would more than likely reload.
The .243 Winchester is deadly accurate, there is no question about. In fact, a survey conducted amongst the top 100 Precision Rifle Series competitors showed that the .243 Winchester was the second most popular caliber to use in the open division.
With a wide range of bullet weights available to the .243 from 58-grain up to 115-grain accuracy, not to mention the almost endless custom loads, accuracy tests would vary and the .243’s accuracy cannot simply be defined by shooting just one specific bullet weight.
Pitching these two calibers against each other solely on their ballistics results shouldn’t really be seen as a means of comparison, given their different histories and how they came about. Yet, as they say, “numbers never lie” and it still provides a good indication as to how these calibers perform, so in a sense that cannot be ignored either.
We are not taking anything away from the .250 Savage in this article, if anything it needs more praise and admiration for laying down the pathway and opening the doors to high velocity cartridges such as the .243 Winchester.
The .250 Savage was simply ahead of its time and did not receive the necessary support from technological advancements as many newer calibers enjoy today.
That is always a tough situation to be in because as time goes on latest developments get new names and these older pioneers tend to fade into obscurity. The .250 Savage will forever remain an iconic caliber.
The reality today is that hunters ultimately want two things, performance and availability. With impressive ballistic figures and the ease at which one can pick up a .243 Winchester from almost any firearms manufacturer is the reason why we suggest choosing the .243 Winchester.